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West Bloomfield

October 5, 2012

WB requires speakers to identify themselves

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

WEST BLOOMFIELD — The Township Board of Trustees made no secret about its position Oct. 1 on whether public speakers should be allowed to remain anonymous.

At an Oct. 1 township board meeting, the board voted 5-2 to adopt a proposal that requires speakers to identify themselves by name. Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste and Trustee Steven Kaplan were in the minority.

Besides the name requirement, a township memo states the proposal also requires speakers at township board meetings and other public meetings to clarify whether they reside in West Bloomfield. Residents will not be forced to reveal their street addresses.

Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy said the policy will let her know whether public speakers are residents and stakeholders in the community. She also said anonymity makes it hard for public officials to later get in touch with speakers, if necessary.

Treasurer Teri Weingarden concurred. “It is a matter of public record when you speak at a public body,” she said.

Trustee Howard Rosenberg agreed, arguing that speakers already know who he is, and he would like the same courtesy. “It’s a matter of maintaining decorum, civility … and also security — security for us,” he said. “If they’re in this government office, we need to know who they are.”

On the other side, Trustee Steven Kaplan said he was at first in favor of the proposal, saying it wouldn’t affect civilization. But he said there is no existing requirement that a person has to identify themselves at meetings.

He also wondered whether such a requirement would discourage introverts. “I’m wondering what the gain is here,” he said.

Ureste said she originally brought up the idea at the request of the Wetland Review Board chair. At first, Ureste said she was OK with people identifying themselves without revealing their addresses due to concerns over identity theft.

However, she later said that allowing speakers to stay anonymous could encourage people who are apathetic or intimidated to speak their minds.

“I certainly would not want to stifle or, I guess, impose a guideline that might discourage someone from attending,” she said. “I do not know that this guideline change would encourage participation. ... For four years, I’ve seen that the public is not attending.”

According to Township Attorney William Hampton, the proposal aligns with the Open Meetings Act.

Learn more about West Bloomfield at www.wbtwp.com or by calling (248) 451-4800.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.